The NHL has returned; and with the return, another chance to see the most glorious sport in the world...somewhere.
Was it this channel?
How about this channel?
Well, where the hell is it then?
That channel? Surely you jest.
Yes, the NHL has signed with Comcast, owners of the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), after Comcast threw a whole bunch of money that ESPN was unwilling to pay. The deal gives the NHL a lot more money than it deserves too.
I refer to OLN as "The House That Lance Built" since this network's programming claim-to-fame has been showing the last two Tours De France featuring everyone's favorite urine sampler, Lance Armstrong. Other than that, what programming is on this network? How to fish? How to shoot deer? Wait...maybe outdoor sports?
Unless you freeze a rink in Alberta, hockey is primarily an indoor sport with hard seats, nuclear-waste nachos, and extra-light beer available to you while yelling, "You suck, ref!" Already, the OLN masters defy its own programming moniker.
It was bad enough that the NHL's ratings on ESPN and ESPN2 were on-par with the WNBA. It was worse when hockey's ratings were getting trounced by fat, old guys in old-style John Deere hats and cheap sunglasses holding on an ace-seven, contemplating whether or not to go all-in. Ooo, the tension. That sure beats a seven-game NHL playoff any day!
ESPN had the chance to pick up a $60 million option for this upcoming season, but Comcast dropped $200 million over three years (average $66.67 million/year) to win out. It is odd; but I suppose the NHL wanted the longer-term deal.
Hockey fans and writers alike have complained that sport is becoming no more than a niche sport, much like beach volleyball or soccer. Having games broadcast on a channel in fewer homes than ESPN or ESPN2 seems to make little sense if you want the fans to come back to the game.
But you can't really blame ESPN for this. With original programming put in place of hockey, those shows, according to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, "drew ratings that were at least comparable to the number of people watching NHL games." It's hard to ignore those types of programming numbers, especially if you are selling advertising and especially when they are better than the stuff you just had on the air.
Hockey, by its very nature, will fail on TV for the same reasons that soccer fails. It is a sport where there is lots of movement you have to follow (meaning paying attention to the screen), it is played by guys with unpronounceable names (think Europeans), and it was not invented in the United States (football, baseball, basketball). And so, very few people tune in.
There are also demographics to consider. Hockey is popular in the north-midwestern states (Minnesota, North Dakota) and in the northeast (Connecticut, Maine) because those regions are conducive to hockey. Sunrise, Florida – does this sound like a hockey-mad town? Los Angeles? Dallas? Places where the only snow found is when DEA shoots down a Piper Cub from Bogata?
When ESPN would show games, it was usually one of four teams: Philadelphia, Dallas, Colorado, or Detroit. Tampa Bay, the Stanley Cup winner of 2003-04, had one regular season game for a national audience during that season. Vancouver had zero. If you didn't care for one of the four aforementioned teams, why would you watch? I'm a Flyers fan, and even I got tired of it.
One can only hope that OLN doesn't make the same mistakes as ESPN, but they probably will. Just to fewer people.